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Followup: The Joys of Home Ownership (Part 1)

Sunday, March 13, 2011
Recap: Just over a year ago I purchased a house. At the time, the house was right about four years old, meaning it's right about five years old now.

It happens I came home one night recently to find that my house was 60 degrees inside, a temperature significantly below what I had expected it to be. Puzzled, I tried turning up the heat. Nothing happened. I fiddled with the settings and heard the thermostat click, but still nothing happened. Then I went to the garage to look at the furnace and smelled the natural gas.

Of course, the first thing everyone says is "immediately leave the house and call the gas company". Well, apparently I'm bad at following directions because I just opened the garage door and the gas dispersed quickly. Then I opened the furnace to have a look. I have an Armstrong Air Ultra V Tech 80, which is a fancy name for what is apparently an uncommon (on the west coast) and unremarkable furnace. I could quickly see that no flame was coming on when the ignition tried to ignite, and that the gas that wasn't igniting was leaking out into the garage.

Cold and not knowing a whole lot about furnaces, I shut the gas line off to it and went back inside. First thing in the morning, after shivering my way out of bed, I called Pyramid Heating and Cooling, the fine folks that installed my air conditioning. They were able to get there that afternoon to take a look.

The non-standard ignitor

The gentleman that showed up spent about 19 seconds determining that the gas igniter wasn't igniting. He explained the furnace start-up cycle and that, after about 7 seconds, the whole thing will shut down if it tries to start and then doesn't sense a flame (he pointed out the sensor for me), then showed me the bits of the igniter that had fallen off. It's a small, simple part that doesn't appear to do much - until you've got one that's not working.

The the problem came. Because it's a locally uncommon furnace, it uses a locally uncommon parts. Despite having dozens of igniters in his truck, none of them (not even the "universal" ones) were compatible with my furnace. He called around to the one local distributor for that furnace he could find and the part was "special order only". Finally, he was able to get someone to cross-reference the part with another furnace manufacturer which used the same part and and there WAS one in the Portland Metro Area - I just couldn't get it until the next day.

So I spent another cold night at my house.

Finally, the second day after the heat in my house went out (during the winter), the gentleman arrived with the right part. It took him roughly 28 seconds to get it installed, after which the heat in my house fired right up. Also, watching the burners light up is awesome, but that's beside the point. And what is that point? The point of this article is that watch next time someone mentions "the joys of home ownership". They'll most likely be gritting their teeth and having vivid flashbacks.

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